How your mental health can affect your dog
Dogs can experience positive and negative emotions.
If you think your dog looks stressed out, it might be your own stress levels that are affecting your pet pooch. A study published on Thursday in Nature's Scientific Reports shows pet dogs may synchronise their stress levels with those of their owners. More than just being man's best friend, it appears our pet dogs may be mirroring our mental state too, and that can be bad for their health.
It's all in the hair Swedish researchers studied 58 dogs — 33 Shetland Sheepdogs and 25 Border Collies — as well as their owners. The dogs selected were balanced for sex, breed and activity level. Both dog and owner personality was assessed through standardised personality questionnaires, with owners filling out the Dog Personality Questionnaire on behalf of their pet. Researchers measured the hormone cortisol, which can be raised during mental distress, in the hair of dogs. The researchers also measured the hormone cortisol in the hair of dogs and their owners over a year-long period. - Cortisol is a measure of physiological stress, which can be raised during mental distress. But it's also elevated for short periods such as during exercise and illness.
Impact on dogs The results showed a significant correlation between human and dog cortisol levels across the year. In 57 of the dogs in summer and 55 in winter, cortisol levels matched those of their owners. This means that for these dogs, their cortisol levels rose and fell in unison with their owner's.
Signs your dog is anxious One of the hard things about our relationships with dogs is that when something is up, they can't easily communicate that to us. That's why, with issues such as anxiety, we need to know what to look for and how to treat it. This correlation was not influenced by dog activity levels or dog personality. It was, however, influenced by the personality of the dog's owner. Owners with higher stress levels tended to have dogs with higher stress levels too. Female dogs had a stronger connection with their owner's stress levels compared with male dogs. Previous studies have shown that female dogs (as well as rats and chimpanzees) are more emotionally responsive than males. There's also evidence that increased oxytocin (the love and bonding hormone) in female dogs results in increased interactions with their owner, causing a corresponding increase in the owner's oxytocin levels. This effect wasn't seen in male dogs. -A limiting factor to the new study was that it did not identify any causes of elevated stress in the dog owners. But what it does show is that regardless of the cause of the stress, our reaction to it impacts our dogs.
Our relationship with dogs Researchers have long discussed the concept of what is called the "human-dog dyad", a close bond between humans and dogs. This relationship, developed over 15,000 years, is unique in the animal world. Dogs and humans have a close bond.
There is evidence to suggest dogs evolved alongside us and consequently are in tune with our emotions and bond with us through eye contact.
Helping our dogs cope Dogs are sentient animals. This means they can experience both positive and negative emotions, such as pleasure, comfort, fear, and anxiety.
A poor mental state, where a dog is regularly experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety, can lead to poor animal welfare. If owners have an impact on the stress levels of their dogs, it means we also play a role in protecting their welfare. The impact we have on our dog's stress levels goes both ways - positive and negative. If we reduce our own stress levels, it's likely we will also reduce our dog's stress levels.
We know chronic stress is bad for both humans and dogs, increasing the likelihood we will get sick as well as decreasing our quality of life.
If you don't work on decreasing your stress levels for your own sake, perhaps you will do it for your dog. There are great resources available for decreasing stress levels, and the good news is that some of them, such as getting out in nature, can be done with your dog right by your side.
At Liberty Dog Spa, we know that some pets can feel stressed when coming in for service. For those extra nervous pups, maintining your own composure is key. The more you relax and don't feel that there is anything to worry about, the more they will mirror that. When dropping off, do so calmly and walk away! If your dog sees you standing there watching them they will feel scared and want to cry for you/run your direction. However, once they realize they are on their own, the confidence turns up and they are much more relaxed for service!
This article originally appeared on The Conversation.